What started as a whispered rumor, almost too tragic to believe, became a sad reality by the evening of August 25th: Power Trip frontman Riley Gale had passed away in his sleep. After more than a decade of incessant touring, a pair of much worshipped LPs, 2013's Manifest Decimation and 2017's Nightmare Logic, and innumerable live shows that were nothing short of incendiary, it was a devastating blow to the heavy-music community. Social media exploded with anecdotes and accolades as everyone from Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe to rapper, actor and Body Count frontman Ice-T to Fox News host Greg Gutfeld paid their respects.
While Gale will be most remembered as a charismatic frontman devoted to his craft and beloved by the metal masses, he was also known for his outspoken progressive politics. "We're political in a sort of morally relativistic way where if someone is wearing a Power Trip shirt, you can probably assume that that person isn't, like, some weird, racist, meathead piece of shit — hopefully," he told Revolver in 2018 when he appeared on one of the covers of our first-ever "Rule-Breakers" issue. "We try to make it pretty clear that we might all be white males, but this is not a band for white males to enjoy and be dumb rednecks."
He was also a boyfriend, a brother and a son, born in Dallas on April 30th, 1986, the first of four children to a local businessman and a stay-at-home mother, Brandon and Gina Gale. Growing up on a steady diet of music, fed to him literally from the time he was in the womb, Riley took to heavy music as a kid, becoming a staple and ultimately a leader of the local hardcore scene, inspired by Texas groups like Bitter End and Iron Age. (R.I.P. to the latter band's Wade Allison, who also recently passed.)
The potency of Power Trip's music and message was matched by the intensity of Riley's love for his friends, the openness of his giant heart and the warmth of his giving and patient nature. He will be missed the world over, but no more than by his family. With that in mind, we talked to one of the people who knew him best, Riley's father Brandon.
LET'S START AT THE BEGINNING. HOW DID YOU MEET RILEY'S MOM GINA?
BRANDON GALE We actually met when we lived in the Detroit area in the late Seventies. There was a big mall in Dearborn, Michigan, where we both worked in different businesses. She happened to work at this English pub called Jonathan Pub. I hit on her, she said yes, and the rest is history.
We moved to Dallas in 1980. I'm a serial entrepreneur, so I started and sold a couple of small businesses. Riley was our first born and he was just a blessing for us. Our next child, his brother Zachary, now lives in the Detroit area and is married. His other brother and sister were a two for one, Dylan and Sarah. They live in Dallas, and so do we. Riley only lived about 20 minutes away, which is where he passed.
WAS MUSIC A BIG PART OF THE HOUSEHOLD?
I think we kind of helped give him a love for music when he was growing up — eclectic choices. We were always fans of Iggy Pop, Motown, early rock & roll and classical stuff. When Gina was pregnant with him, I was one of those weird dads that decided I was going to put music on headphones on her belly. So we were playing Bach, Brahms and Beethoven and all kinds of stuff because I read that that helps stimulate their brain when they're young. I wasn't playing any Iggy Pop, but at some point, he heard that growing up.
LIVING IN DETROIT AROUND THE DAWN OF THE STOOGES AND THE MC5, WERE YOU INTO THAT SCENE AT THE TIME?
So a friend of mine that I worked with when I was 17 or 18 started getting me into the music scene. I was still in high school and Iggy's father was my high school senior English teacher — their last name is Osterberg. And when Iggy first came out, his father, who was an ex-Navy pilot, couldn't stand it — completely disavowed any knowledge of him. Then Iggy started selling albums and doing sell-out shows. I went to every Iggy show I could, and would get extra credit for bringing in a show stub from Iggy to class. So I aced English, partly because Iggy helped me.
But the Detroit music scene was really cool. MC5, New York Dolls, Stooges, Lou Reed, you name it — if they went through Detroit, went to Masonic Auditorium or a few others then we were there. Saw Bowie when he was Ziggy Stardust and all that stuff. Glam rock, the whole thing.
WHERE DO YOU THINK RILEY'S INTEREST IN PUNK CAME FROM?
I've got to bow down to my son's encyclopedic knowledge of music. He could cite everybody in a band, the year the album dropped, the best tracks and he'd even reference riffs. I mean, I thought I had a decent knowledge of music, but nothing compared to him. He would talk about lots of different kinds of stuff all in the same breath, so he was far from just a metal and punk guy.
I wasn't really aware of the scene when Riley first started. I'm a music fan, but I've never been a metal guy. But I learned to appreciate and eventually love the genre. So when I traveled — and I travel a lot in my business — I always tried to line up my trips with his shows. So I probably went to six or seven shows a year while he was touring.
WHAT WAS RILEY LIKE AS A KID?
Well, he was really small in stature. Early on, we put him in Taekwondo and his instructor was a really, really good guy that taught him the right way and it gave him a lot of confidence. In fact, he fought in probably two or three dozen tournaments and I think he won most of them. I took him to every one of them.
In elementary school, if they'd be out on recess, he would go look for the guys who were sitting by themselves and just go over and say, "Hey, what's up? Who are you?" So he was always a guy looking to help other people out, make them feel better about themselves.
He was also a little devil, always getting into stuff. I thought he was super smart and he proved over and over again that he was a deep thinker. Even as a kid, he would ask me some of the most bizarre questions, and we started having pretty in-depth discussions about life early, as well. He was anti-authoritarian so he didn't like any direction from me or his teachers — he always thought there was better way. And sometimes there was.
I think one of the other things that his mother and I did was we encouraged him to become an avid reader very early on. And once he latched onto that, I was amazed. I've never seen anybody read as many books. When they were getting ready to go on tour, one of his last stops would be to buy a box full of books and finish them all on tour.
CONSIDERING YOUR INITIAL LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF HEAVY METAL, WERE YOU SHOCKED THAT YOUR SON WAS APPLYING SMARTER IDEAS TO THIS MUSIC?
You know, some metal songs have some pretty dumbass lyrics. Let's be honest. They're meaningless, just like most other genres. Riley refused to do that. His music definitely had a message to anybody that's paying attention to it, and some of it was pretty prescient, predicting where we are today, politically and as a society. I was struck by those lyrics. When he first started, my friends would ask what's Riley up to and I'd say, "He's in some screamer band! He's the front guy but he can't sing for shit. He's just up there yelling!" Once I started to understand it, I became a fan of his lyrics.
WHAT WERE THOSE EARLY DAYS LIKE? THERE ARE STORIES OF YOU HOUSING A LOT OF BANDS BACK THEN.
It was pretty typical for Riley, even though we joked about it, to come and say, "Hey, mom and dad, would you mind if I just had a couple of guys come over to hang out for a few minutes? They won't really be in the way." Those couple guys would turn out to be 25 guys with all of their girlfriends. So we would break out the grill, feed them, and they would ask if they can do the laundry and take showers.
For instance — and not anything other than he's an easy example — Eric Ghostemane came to the house and he's a different-looking guy but he's a sweetheart. We found that never mattered to us ... If Riley welcomes you, then you're welcome. Maybe he got some of his inclusive nature from us. I hope that's true.
We really got to know how great the guys were and how that whole community is so amazing. When Riley passed and we went through the services, his sister Sarah met so many of his friends. After meeting all these people, she said, "I just realized I have 300 big brothers out there." That speaks to Riley's kindness but also the sort of people from around the world that he would welcome to the house.
RILEY WAS VERY MUCH A NATURAL LEADER AND FRONTMAN. WHEN DID YOU NOTICE THIS QUALITY?
I saw that very early, back in his elementary school probably when he was in sixth or seventh grade. We've all met people like this in our lives — where they walk into a room and all of a sudden everybody wants to go hang out with them. I think you're just born with it. I think he did that a little bit reluctantly, to be honest, because we would have discussions about that. I hate to use the term natural-born leader, but it does fit Riley.
CONSIDERING HOW LOVED AND ADMIRED HE WAS, WHO DID HE LOOK UP TO IN THE MUSIC WORLD?
He had a big admiration for Ice-T, and it predated them getting to know each other. I said to Riley that if you want to model yourself after someone, he wouldn't be a bad guy. He sticks to his guns. He knows what he wants. He's a moral guy. He came from some very tough circumstances and look where he is now. And he's a brilliant businessman and marketer on top of that. Plus, he's also got a fan base that sincerely like him for who he is. So if you want to model yourself after somebody, Ice-T is a great choice.
WHAT WAS THE MOST SURPRISING CALL THAT YOU GOT AFTER RILEY'S PASSING?
Ice-T, also. So Body Count wanted to do a pandemic, at-home video for "Point the Finger" with Riley, so they contacted him and said, "Hey, you need to put a track down of your part in that song and get me a video of it." In typical fashion, and I think Riley may have gotten this from me, he waited until the 13th hour, came over and said, "Dad, you have shoot the scene." So we set up in the garage and I was the videographer so I had to send it to their video team. So I had their emails.
After Riley passed, I sent a little message over to Ice-T saying, "Hey, he had a lot of respect for you and I do, as well. I really appreciate what you did for my son. If you ever want to talk, here's my phone number." So he called me. That was the most surprising call by far. It was about 20 minutes long and it really helped. Really good talk. He's an awesome guy.
WHERE DO YOU THINK RILEY GOT HIS PROGRESSIVE POLITICS?
We're a fairly conservative household but not from a social standpoint — socially, we're pretty crazy liberal. My wife would often comment that whenever Riley and I would get into a discussion of politics, we would get very animated because we both had very strong opinions and impressions. We had tremendous respect for each other, but we would start yelling and screaming and everybody in the house would run for cover. But then we'd be done and say, "Well, what are we having for dinner?" Yeah, that's the kind of relationship we had. I learned a tremendous amount from my son. He was a brilliant guy. He would research his positions and knew what he was talking about. But he was a student of politics. I think maybe he got a little bit of that from me.
CONSIDERING HIS PROGRESSIVE POLITICS, HOW DID HIS FRIENDSHIP WITH FOX NEWS' GREG GUTFELD COME ABOUT?
I actually had Fox News running in the background in my house one day and [Gutfeld's show] The Five comes on. I wasn't even watching the show, but the volume was up and I thought, "Wait a minute, that's a fucking Power Trip song." I texted Riley and that's when he tweeted the tongue-in-cheek "cease and desist." Gutfeld got to him and said, "I'd love to talk to you," and they talked for, like, two and a half hours.
WHEN WAS THE MOMENT WHEN YOU THOUGHT, "WOW, THIS BAND IS A REAL THING"?
I think it would be fair to say that it was when he toured with Anthrax and Lamb of God. There were other shows when I would see guys stage-diving, just bloodying their nose in the pit and loving every minute of it. I'd catch the look in their eyes and I think, "I understand. This is what makes him go. This is what he loves."
Before that, I remember so many of the venues in the early days where it was the basement of somebody's house. I went to many of those sweaty shows, too. And then when they started going on tour to Europe and went to Russia and I knew they were doing exactly what Riley wanted to do — see the world, play music and make people happy.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT RILEY?
I would say his empathy for anyone that needs some help, and that empathy extended to animals, too. He and his girlfriend, Marsella, had three dogs including Riley's dog, Tommy, who is this super scroungy and scruffy dog. Riley adopted him because nobody else wanted that poor dog.
We asked that in lieu of flowers and stuff that people would contribute to Dallas Hope Charities. He was a big supporter of the LBGTQ+ community, specifically those who are homeless. I think that if he had Ice-T-level money, he'd be drop-ping a million dollars a year on that charity. That commitment ran deep — when Power Trip did [January 2020 festival] Evil Beat Vol. 2, the majority of the proceeds went to Dallas Hope. So he did as much for charity as his relatively skinny wallet allowed him to do.
I think that the most important thing that I want people to know is that on that day I didn't just lose my son, I lost my best friend.